Straw Bears

To prevent the plague spreading to the adjoining village, the villagers dressed one of their number in straw, then in procession circumambulated the village, finishing up by taking off the straw and burning it outside the village bounds. — A. Rugg-Gunn, “‘Straw-Bear’ at Jena,” Folklore 42:1, 87-89

We are the hollow bears, the stuffed bears dancing together, straw headpiece filled with human. We mimic bears mimicking men, blondeface minstrels led about on leashes. The natural order of things is to die & decay; only through levity can the wintry world once more be set to wrongs. But we are also beasts among men, & our needs are bestial. The villagers shriek at our too-hard hugs, get us drunk & kill us, again & again. Like conjurers we pull ourselves from deathly sleep. We rustle, mumble, shuffle, stumble, tussle, tumble, hustle, crumble. All sickness sticks to our honey-colored fur — & so we must burn. Outside the village bounds we return to the wild, flames playing the way we all did once, before pits & chains.

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